What if You Could Love Your Body for What it Does Instead of How it Looks?

By Emma Kobolakis

In 2014 I convinced myself that my office job was killing me. Five days a week, I reported to the same beige cubicle within a complex of beige cubicles in the fiefdom of the nonprofit that employed me. I wrote daily about organic farming, sustainable food, and farm-to-table restaurants across the country. I would joke that I was the only twentysomething in the Financial District that could tell you how to run a dairy. But my knowledge was purely cerebral, my experience nonexistent. My manicure was perfect. I felt completely useless.

I promised myself that for the next five years, I Would Not Work In An Office. Armed with that vow, I threw myself into high-volume pastry production.  It wasn’t an entirely heedless move; I had written about dessert for years. I started a baking business in college, damn it! How hard could it be?

My first day on the floor was a rude awakening. I remember swirling clouds of powdered sugar parting to reveal four stand mixers that eclipsed me in height, their endless whirring providing the perfect backbeat to my pounding heart. I don’t belong here. I stared, horrified, at the recipe binder in my hands. I don’t know what I’m doing.

I figured it out. I spent the next six months hauling fifty-pound bags of flour and sugar around a concrete-floored commissary with a dozen other women. I would gleefully wheel the mixing bowls to and fro, their 140-quart capacity more than capable of holding me entirely. During the holiday season, a coworker and I did the math and discovered we had, between the two of us, produced enough dough to make eleven thousand cookies. The girls and I would grab beers after work, and I’d smirk with pride as we shed our jackets, revealing the swollen lats, traps, and biceps we had grown together.

The satisfaction in viewing the physical yield of a day’s work and resulting bone-deep exhaustion appealed to me. I had never sweated at any of my previous jobs. My body had never before changed to accommodate my workload. I was hooked. My knuckles were ripped, but my spirits soared.

There is a narrative that is spoon-fed to all of us. Society has an idea of how we should perceive ourselves, and that message is disseminated through social media. Women, especially, are told how to feel about our own bodies. Either we are supposed to love ourselves for what we are, every wrinkle, stretch mark, and roll. Or, we are told to hate ourselves for those same attributes. Rarely are we told to love ourselves for what our bodies can do.

I say, if you want to love your body—challenge it.

Photos: Chia Messina & Jose Espaillat